Federal Appeals Court Voids FAA Registration Rule For Model Aircraft

In a stunning David versus Goliath case, John A. Taylor, a model aircraft enthusiast and insurance lawyer, beat the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Justice in a case challenging the legality of a December 2015 FAA rule requiring model aircraft to register like manned aircraft.   The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FAA’s registration rule, as it applies to model aircraft, “directly violates [a] clear statutory prohibition.”

The statute that the Court refers to, and that Mr. Taylor relied on in his challenge, is Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.  That statute prohibited the FAA “from promulgating any rule or regulation regarding model aircraft.”  The Court found that Congress had “weighed in” on the issue of the regulation of model aircraft and the law codified “the FAA’s longstanding hands-off approach to the regulation of model aircraft.”  The statute defines model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere, flown within visual line of sight and flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

The Court expressly states in its decision: “The FAA’s Registration Rule violates Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act.”  The Court further vacated the registration rule to the extent this applies to model aircraft.  According to aviation attorney, Loretta Alkalay, it is possible that the Department of Justice will appeal this decision but she believes it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would grant an appeal.  “We should know in the next couple of weeks how the US government plans to implement the Court’s decision, if it decides not to appeal,” she said.

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